Sermon for November 15, 2015

Text: Isaiah 11:1-5

Isaiah 11:1-5New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Peaceful Kingdom


A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,

    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,

    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

    the spirit of counsel and might,

    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,

    or decide by what his ears hear;

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,

    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,

    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,

    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

Mark 12:1-3

Mark 12:1-3New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

12 Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed.

Sermon by Pastor Verlee A. Copeland  

November 15 2015

Don’t Look A Gift Horse in the Mouth


         Ellis and I just returned from a week’s vacation with family. We played Apples to Apples, a favorite game of the youngest grandchildren, although John Henry, age 6, gets annoyed if he doesn’t win. Claire Verlee generously picks her younger brother’s card to give him some advantage and to spare his feelings, but not so much as to tip him off or spoil the game.

         It snowed, hard, a good eight inches, and the wind howled without mercy. One local radio station played the first Christmas Carols, pitching us forward unwillingly into winter.

Sitting around the fire with family, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the first hints for Christmas gifts: son-in-law Tom wants a fleece jacket, son Joshua needs boots. Micah wants a plaid flannel shirt that fits him, an odd choice for an urban commodities trader, and daughter Kim wants a crock-pot for her first real apartment. Welcome to adulthood, Kimberly.

         When I was a kid, we didn’t get to assemble a want list for Christmas, though I admit I’m grateful for the hints of this past week. I can’t recall ever asking for the flowery pajamas that arrived annually, or the handmade grey flannel cat sent by my great grandmother, or the etch-a-sketch that preceded Xbox by a million years. When I opened some dubious gift from well-meaning relatives, my mother would look at me sternly with the words, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was pretty sure it meant that I shouldn’t complain about the gift, and that I had to write a thank you note to Aunt Lorene whether I liked the present or not.

         In case your mother didn’t explain it to you, A gift horse is a horse that was a gift, quite simply. When given a horse, it would be bad manners to inspect the horse's mouth to see if it has bad teeth or to determine how old it is. This can be applied as an analogy to any gift: Don't inspect it to make sure it matches some standard you have, just be grateful!

         The saying goes back a long way, to Jerome’s Letter to the Ephesians about AD 400, and has been repeated across the centuries to this day. Apparently mothers have been teaching their children to graciously accept the generosity of others for a very long time.

         The Bible tells us that all good gifts come to us through the generosity of an all-loving God. We may want a pony, but God gives us truth, and righteousness and justice. We may want a new job or a better car, but God gives us wisdom, and knowledge and guidance. We think we need many things, yet God in God’s infinite mercy gives us Christ, the way, the truth and the path to life.

         God also generously gives each of us specific gifts for the purpose of serving others. I Peter 4:10 says:

“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

God has given you unique abilities, talents, and gifts. (Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church writes that:) “This bundle of talents is the thing God has given you that makes you who you are and sets you apart from other people.

If you think your talents are simply for you to make a lot of money, retire, and die, you’ve missed the point of your life. God gave you talents to benefit others, not yourself. And God gave other people talents that benefit you.

We’re all a part of the body of Christ, and each part matters. There are no insignificant people in the family of God. You are shaped to serve God, and God is testing you to see how you are going to use the talents God gave you. Whether you are a musician or an accountant, a teacher or a cook, God gave you those abilities to serve others.”

 Hear again this verse from I Peter. “Each of you should use whatever gift she has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10 NIV).

You are a manager of the gifts God has given to you. They may be great or small in your eyes, but they matter to God. “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2 NIV). When God made you, God made an investment in you, and God expects a return on that investment. Many of us have participated in Kingdom projects to multiply our talents here at First Parish Church this fall. Your whole life is a Kingdom project for the glory of God.

Are you using what God has given you for the benefit of others to make the world a better place? Or are you just using those talents to benefit yourself?

When God gives you a talent, God expects you to use it. It’s like a muscle. If you use it, it will grow. If you don’t, you’ll lose it. If you have a talent but are afraid to use it, or if you get lazy and don’t use it to benefit others, you’re going to lose it. Like the parable of the ten talents in Luke 19, if you don’t use what God has given you, God will take it away and give it to someone else who will.

But if you use your talents wisely, God will give you more. If you use your time wisely, God will give you more time. If you use your energy wisely, God will give you more energy. If you use your influence wisely, God will increase your influence. God will bless your level of generosity.

Some people think generosity is only about money. And when we think generosity is only about money, we miss the mark. For persons of faith, generosity is about a way of life in response to the extraordinary generosity of our all-loving God.

We respond to God’s generosity in five ways: and they’re easy to remember if we have five fingers or five toes. God gives us these five things and asks us to use whatever we’ve been given to serve others:

Generosity of time

Generosity of talent

Generosity of treasure

Generosity of truth, and

Generosity of touch

         You may find some kinds of generosity easier than others. Consider this morning where God is calling you to grow in generosity. Those who practice generosity of Time volunteer by singing in the choir, reading to children at school, coaching the soccer team, visiting the sick or listening to a friend. They have the unique capacity to make others feel as though there is no where else they would rather be and nothing they would rather do than to spend time with you. They invest their time in the lives of others. How do you give of your time?

         Those who practice generosity of Talent find ways to give away their gifts. Any gift can be given for service to God.

         “Vickie Hardin Woods has been making a pie very day since the day she retired. She gives the pie each day to a family member, friend, neighbor, former co-worker, even a stranger, as a way of expressing gratitude and kindness to others while staying busy.

“Woods, who made a pie every day for a year, documented her pie adventure via a Tumblr blog called “Half Baked Retirement,” which features photos of her pies and their recipients. Woods drafted three rules for her project:

1) Never give a pie to the same person twice. “This will force me to reach out to someone new every day,” she wrote on her blog.

2) Always try to make the pie fresh every day, even while traveling. She demonstrated how doable that was during a camping trip.

3) Always try to use local seasonal ingredients and make all kinds of pies, including fruit, cream, savory, vegan and gluten free. The day the Statesman Journal visited her kitchen, she was using blueberries from Minto Island Growers and experimenting with a savory vegan pie for her personal trainer.

Woods, who sometimes drives around with a pie in the car, looking for someone to give it to, says that the act of giving away a pie every day makes her truly happy.

“It makes me feel wealthy to be able to do this,” Vickie said. “I have the time, the physical capacity and the resources to do this. And it makes me feel good.”(Statesman Journal)

How do you give of your talent?

Those who practice generosity of Treasure give away money. This brings them joy and a sense of abundance. Those who practice generosity of treasure give away money and resources, regularly, spontaneously and cheerfully: to their church, to people in need and through other ministries and organizations that share Gods love with all people.

For some people generosity of Treasure comes easily. For others, this is very hard. Some of us live in fear that if we’re generous we won’t have enough. We live with a fear of deprivation rather than a trust in God’s abundance. If you grew up in a home where you watched your parents give money to support your local church and to support people in need, and if you grew up in a home where your parents taught you to give the first fruits, the first dime of your fifty cent allowance to God, then generosity of Treasure may come easy.

In the church there are three kinds of givers. Those who first measure how much they want to keep, those who wonder how much is enough to give away, the minimum daily requirement, and those who give away as much as they can as a way of life because they have discovered the joy of generosity. What kind of giver are you?

         Those who practice generosity of Truth learn all they can about Gods gifts, and courageously share Gods truth with those in need of it. When someone feels out of control, those who are generous with Truth offer the Lords prayer or the Serenity Prayer; when someone is suffering from something they’ve said or done that they cannot change, those who are generous with Truth share with them the good news of God’s forgiveness. When someone suffers from discouragement of spirit, those who are generous with truth offer them hope that through faith all things will work together for good. We share Gods living Truth as followers of Christ by becoming good news people in a bad news world.

Those who practice generosity of Touch make people a priority. They pay attention to what’s happening around them, and they generously and spontaneously respond. Children are really good at this kind of generosity. One woman who recently served as a nurse on a mission trip to an African village, passed out food to hungry children as part of her work. As she handed a piece of bread to a young child, knowing this would be her only food for the day, she observed her tear it apart and give the bigger piece to her younger brother.

Giving isn’t optional. Generosity through our time, our talent, our treasure, our truth and our touch, fulfills God’s purpose for our life. Generosity is God’s anticipated response to our all-generous God. To not give is to look a gift horse in the mouth, measuring the worth of God’s gifts and finding them wanting, measuring the value of the church and considering how it ranks according to our preferences, measuring the worthiness of those we serve before we decide whether or not to support them. What kind of giver are you?

Coming home from vacation yesterday, I got on the C and J bus in Boston and experienced an extraordinary act of ordinary generosity. I overheard a conversation between the seasoned bus driver and the thirtyish attendant who loads and unloads the luggage, shouting out the planned destination in the unlikely event someone needs to go to, say Hartford, instead of Dover. The driver turned to the young man and said, I notice that for the last month or so you have had nothing but kind words to say to everyone. You haven’t complained about your hard work, or the company, or the customers or anything else. I’ve also noticed that you have a really good attitude and it makes you easy to work with and I want you to know that I appreciate that very much.

What a great act of generosity: of time, of touch, of truth, of talent, and maybe, just maybe, of treasure too! How great is that?

If you love God, and trust God for your provision, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Give. Give generously. Give all that you can, for as long as you can, wherever you can, for the glory of God. Amen